Come on In, the Water’s Fine

Is it the future if it’s already here?

The Canadian Bar Association launched its Futures initiative with a view to helping legal practitioners best position themselves to face the challenges ahead, but it also took a look at the legal service providers who have already taken the plunge.

The Futures research has shown that there is no lack of ideas about how to face the future of the legal system, but none of them present a clear, obvious option. Any of them, or any combination of them, could work. Or maybe there’s another silver bullet out there, one creative solution that will answer all concerns, that simply hasn’t been thought of yet.

One of several background papers prepared for the CBA in the first phase of Futures looked at 14 cases where providers found creative ways of dealing with pressures to change with the times – forging their own paths, and quite successfully too. While it must be noted that some of these business structures couldn’t exist in Canada’s current regulatory environment, there is nothing standing in the way of others.

The examples contained in this paper include Co-operative Legal Services Ltd. in the U.K., which marries law and retail; Slater & Gordon in Australia, the world’s first publicly traded law firm; Rocket Lawyer, which provides legal documents online; Riverview Law, again in the U.K., which focuses on keeping overhead to a minimum – it has no head office and no partners. They, and the others studied in this paper, are all flourishing financially – standing in opposition to the frequent criticism that cries for change are thinly veiled calls for lawyers to earn less money.

These firms are making alternate fee arrangements, alternative business structures, legal process outsourcing, off-shoring – and many more of the buzzwords of the legal futures literature – work for them.

There are two sides to every story of course, and the examination of these cases didn’t drill down to the individual lawyer level, to see whether the micro view was as rosy as the macro. But few would argue the traditional model is perfect either, so that may balance out.

The fact remains that these cases show that alternative models can work, and have benefits to offer both lawyers and clients.

Are you still skirting the edge of the pool, afraid to dip your toes, or are you ready to dive in? What’s your futures story? Join the conversation. #cbafutures

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